Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Communicating with difficulty

I've always been useless with foreign languages. I did French at school and German a bit later on and can remember almost nothing.

I learned some time ago that my Portuguese friend and blog follower, Astro, speaks many languages fluently and I am so much in awe of her. I don't know how she does it. Perhaps it comes easier to some people, or maybe it's a gift.

After 11 years living in Turkey, I should be fluent in the language, but I'm nowhere near. My vocabulary is reasonable but I can't for the life of me actually put a coherent sentence together.

In the early days I tried to teach myself Turkish with the aid of books and tapes. I once had lessons from an ex-pat in Bodrum. It didn't last.....I just couldn't retain anything. And my "teacher" was German, so what little I remembered came out of my mouth in a German accent.

If I was so hopeless at languages in my youth, it doesn't seem likely that I will suddenly be blessed with the art of learning a language at this stage in my life.

It hasn't helped of course that Mr Ayak and I always communicate in English. Except if he wants to swear...when he'll do it in Turkish because he doesn't know enough English swear words! do I cope? I just get by. Shopping isn't a problem. I can remember names of food and household stuff because I use them every day. Items I don't remember, I just look them up in the dictionary and write them on my shopping list. Apparently my pronunciation is very good, so if I write down what I want to say, rehearse it before going into a shop, then I am understood. The problem with that is that because it sounds like I can speak fluently, the person I'm addressing then babbles away in Turkish to me. I understand some of it or I get the gist of what they're saying but my mind goes blank when I am expected to respond. It's so embarrassing at times.

In all the other areas where we have lived, I have always had at least a couple of English speaking friends, and we have often muddled through together. Somehow I feel less inhibited about using Turkish if I know someone is in the same boat as me.

This village is a whole new kettle of fish. The dialect is very strange. I mentioned before that even Mr Ayak finds it difficult to understand what they're what chance do I have?

I know what the early morning shepherdess says to me every day, because I've had weeks to work it out...she says the same thing each time. If I'm invited into a neighbour's house for tea, it's fine because there are always several women there and I can just listen and smile and nod in what I think are the right places.

Monday afternoons have become a bit of a trial. It has become a weekly ritual for my next door neighbour to call for me to go to market with her. She chatters away and quite clearly is asking me questions, some of which I don't understand. Thank goodness I have the Turkish phrases "I don't understand" and "I don't know" firmly imprinted in my brain. But I'm never made to feel stupid by her, or by any Turks with whom I try to communicate, because they are so patient. They will repeat and repeat, with a good deal of sign language, until I've grasped what they are saying. If it's eventually established by my neighbour that I just don't get it ...she just smiles and gives me a hug. Isn't that lovely?

With Mr Ayak being away, and having no other English-speaking people here to talk to, I have had to try so much harder. Maybe this is what I needed all along? Being thrown in at the deep end may just do the trick...given time and a great deal of effort.


  1. It probably is the solution Ayak.

    It is made harder of course by the fact that they talk so bloody fast and suffer from chronic verbal diarrhea.

    I have heard that the grammar is quite complicated.

    Give yourself a pat on the back, and remember once you master it will be in a funny Mugla accent.

  2. The grammar is very complicated...which I think is the main reason why I can't string a sentence together.

    I'll hold off on the pat on the back for the time being though!

  3. After many years, I can get by in Hindi, but I couldn't have a deep discussion about politics or philosophy in it. I have to improve my writing in Hindi though. It is a different script with 56 letters. Then I would love to learn Urdu, which has the same grammatical structure as Hindi but uses Farsi letters and Persian and Turkish nouns.

  4. Gael: It's the lack of proper conversation that I miss. The "getting by" is just not enough at times. Oh if only there was just one universal language!


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